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Volkswagen unveils grand EV plans

Going live: Volkswagen will make a Golf version of the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid from mid-2014.

Golf GTE, anyone? Volkswagen aims to be a world EV leader by 2018

Volkswagen logo17 Sep 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

VOLKSWAGEN may not be first to the mainstream electric vehicle party, but within five years it plans to be the world leader in EV technology.

Last week’s IAA Frankfurt motor show staged a show of force from Europe’s biggest car-maker, with key members of the Volkswagen Group showing pure EV or plug-in hybrid versions of existing vehicles.

Headlining the show were the VW e-Golf and e-Up – pure EVs for megacities and fleets, but not Australia – the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid – due in Australia from 2015 to fight the Holden Volt – and the Porsche 918 hybrid supercar.

But that lot appears to simply be the tip of the iceberg, if fighting-words from senior company figures are considered. There could even be a next-generation electrified Golf hot hatch sold alongside the famous GTI, perhaps called GTE.

But perhaps more realistic is the confirmed Golf Twin Drive, a plug-in hybrid version of Volkswagen’s hatchback staple that will share technology with the A3 e-tron, and due for production by mid-2014.

The car will use a 110kW petrol engine combined with an 80kW electric motor to give a 50km pure electric range and an overall cruising range of around 600km. It can also be recharged via a wall socket, giving owners the best of both worlds.

According to Volkswagen Group chief executive Martin Winterkorn, the rapid rollout of VW’s modular MQB architecture, which will underpin up to 80 per cent of the range from 2018, means the company can quickly and easily add electrified vehicles in most key segments.

“We're not talking about two or three niche models – that's not what we're doing,” Dr Winterkorn said at a pre-show event in Frankfurt attended by GoAuto last week.

“Volkswagen has put electric mobility into the heart of our group and as a result we have met all the requirements to make the Volkswagen Group number one by 2018 in the field of electric vehicles.

“In our group it's the customer who decides how much electric they want. But that's just the beginning. If there's suitable demand, we can build up to 40 more models in all segments and classes and that is why electric traction was deliberately incorporated in our existing vehicles and in our modular platforms. It allows us to act quickly.” On the second day of the IAA, GoAuto sat down with Volkswagen Group member of the board of management for powertrain development, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, to discuss exactly what areas VW could go into.

While making it clear than internal combustion engines – petrol, diesel and compressed natural gas – would remain for many years to come, notably in lower-cost markets with harsh CO2 regulations, Dr Neusser said more mature markets would see a far greater penetration of hybrids, plug-ins and EVs over the next 15 years.

As well as being blessed with the flexibility of MQB, Dr Neusser said Volkswagen’s battery suppliers indicated a steep drop in the cost of fuel cells was around the corner.

Greater production scale of lighter materials such as aluminium, carbon-fibre and magnesium – crucial to counterbalance the mass of heavy lithium-ion batteries – would also drive down costs, while continued development of better low-rolling resistance tyres would further add dynamism to the EV driving experience.

Beyond the Golf Twin Drive and the already-revealed models, GoAuto quizzed Dr Neusser on some more outlandish ideas. What about a plug-in hybrid eighth-generation Golf GTI? Would that be possible? “It could be, theoretically,” he told us. “The question is if it makes sense.” “But GTI is a synonym for the car’s special behavior … two weeks ago I drove the new GTI on the Nordschleiffe, and it retains special driving characteristics, it’s a very lightweight car, and it has a tremendous precision,” said Dr Neusser, implying that the requisite batteries would deaden the GTI’s famous lightweight balance.

“But we will have Golf version also with hybridisation which will come from the performance side, the power side, very close to the GTI,” he said. “But I don’t be sure if we call it GTI, or something different.” We suggest GTE. Watch this space …

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